Monday, 26 September 2011

Knowledge, nation and democracy in post-war Australia

Project project, coming soon!

Nestled into the heart of the old Federal Parliament House was the parliamentary library, housing the knowledge upon which the nation’s decisions would be based. Indeed, as the monumental symbols of democracy and government have been progressively constructed in Canberra’s parliamentary precinct, knowledge has consistently held a prominent place. Just beyond the treasury, signifying the wealth of the nation, sit two other important symbols of Australia’s wealth. The National Library, embodying the nation’s accumulated knowledge and Questacon, a tribute to discovery and innovation. It is apt that the old parliamentary library now houses the Museum of Australian Democracy, for knowledge was the substance upon which the nation’s wealth was built, the material that informed and legitimised its democratic process.

In the 1940s and 1950s, when nation building was a key priority and democracy seemed a precious and fragile ideal, the Commonwealth government supported several mechanisms that would nurture knowledge. That is what this project is about.

The National Archives of Australia – itself a monument to the significance of knowledge to democracy – holds records of key knowledge institutions. The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, the Australian Council for Education Research, the Australian National Research Council, the Australian Pacific Territories Research Council, the National Health and Medical Research Council and the Atomic Energy Commission are among the archives that will be studied in this project. These organisations combine in the 1940s and 1950s with a new Federal focus on the universities, which the files of the Australian Universities Commission and the 1957 Murray Review will support. The project will seek out the common elements of nation building that cross these disparate activities as well as acknowledging their individual contributions to Australia’s development. In particular, it will look for connections between the economic goals of this corpus of initiatives and Australian hopes for its democracy.   

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Histories of Education: Ownership and Academic Markets

The same rise in Higher Education Studies is observable internationally. Though many concerns were shared, most of necessity focused on their own domestic scene, a result of the relationship between higher education policy and trends in the sector on a national scale, though comparative approaches – or ‘international education’ was strengthening.[1] Substantial concern and analysis was, by the late 1980s and into the new millennium, directed towards the changes that are central to this thesis: the reconstruction of higher education as a market.

In the United States, where a significant for-profit sector has emerged, a substantial critical literature on ‘academic capitalism’ has grown.[2] And yet, despite North America’s marked distinctiveness in its for-profit sector in the 2000s, in the mid-1990s a comparative study by Sheila Slaughter and L. Leslie found that, between the United States, Canada and Australia, ‘academic capitalism’ had progressed most quickly in Australia.[3] That claim was based on their observation of the acceleration of the application of markets and market-derived values to university priorities. Universities had become connected to globalisaton, they argued, and the values of the new global economy were being articulated on campuses across the world with Australia operating as an early warning sign to the rest.[4]

Globally, more mobile students were now consumers, according to Slaughter and Leslie, their consumer choice expressed in course selection and a new prominence given to evaluation. In addition, universities in the United States were increasingly compelled, under a growing requirement to commercialise research, to act as businesses.[5] As academics observed the marketisation of their field, the body of scholarship critiquing it grew. In Australia and the United Kingdom, reduced government funding, scholars argued, had led universities to look to other sources of income, pushing institutions into a new global marketplace for higher education. [6] A burgeoning academic consensus, then, claimed that due to government policy, knowledge was commodified.[7]

The result of this, according to North American scholars, is a change in the structre of academic labour. American lierature mourns the loss of power among academic staff as profit elevated management and marketing over ‘mere content’.[8] Lyotard’s predictions of performativity – knowledge measured not by its value, even economically, but rather by its efficiency in producing more knowledge – seems to be borne out in new labour structures in universities across the Western world. In Australia and New Zealand this phenomenon parallels ‘audit culture’, the structuring of academic life according to administrative requirements to report.[9]

In Australia, these arguments have been repeated and recontextualised by Anthony Welch and other scholars, particularly in critiques of the Dawkins reforms and subsequent policies under Prime Minister John Howard. The ‘entrepreneurial university’ has even been analysed by the Federal government: in 2000 the Department of Education, Training and Youth Affairs under Michael Gallagher reported on “The Emergence of Entrepreneurial Public Universities in Australia”.[10] Best known, however, is The Enterprise University, an empirical study of changes in university governance conducted by Simon Marginson and Mark Considine, published in 2000. Their research found that, since the Dawkins reforms of the late 1980s, the environment in which universities were managed had changed. University leaders now had a range of incentives, which had not previously existed, to look to new markets, to adjust the administration of universities towards techniques more commonly associated with commercial organisations, to seek productivity increases and to centralise decision-making to smaller, more flexible leadership groups.[11] That research was part of a pattern of scholarship by Simon Marginson, who has focused, since the early 1990s, on relationships between education and economics.

In the 1990s, Marginson published four books, all from his PhD thesis: Education and Public Policy in Australia sought to question the dominance of economic reasoning educational policy, particularly the Dawkins reforms; Educating Australia gave a history of economics and education in Australia since 1960; The Free Market was a critique of neo-liberalism and Markets in Education considered the character of markets in education as they were just emerging.[12] Through each of these, Marginson interrogated the economic assumptions used in the formulation of education policy. He began by investigating the economic value of education. The value of higher education for graduates, he demonstrated, was not primarily in the knowledge gained and skills learned. Rather, the degree was a ‘positional good’, giving university graduates social and economic advantages derived from the degree’s credential rather than their substance.[13] Later, Marginson extended this to show that some credentials were worth more than others, depending on the reputation of the institution from which the credential was received – making global university rankings significant signifiers of value.[14]

The economic value of higher education was therefore the degree, not knowledge. For Marginson, this freed kowledge from the market. In Education and Public Policy he articulated a theory that university knowledge was an inherently non-market product. It was non-rival, meaning its purchase did not take it away from its original owner. The construction of markets around knowledge that were based on the possibility of owning knowledge as a private good, Marginson concluded, was therefore not consummate with the nature of the substance.[15]

This led Marginson to construe knowledge as a public good. In repeated economic discussions, this public good – meaning publicly owned commodity – exactly equates with the public good, for Marginson, meaning the public benefits of knowledge. This was to contrast neo-liberal economic interpretations of education as a commodity that had ‘positive externalities’, benefits that resulted from, but were not intrinsic to, the character of knowledge. Marginson instead separated education from knowledge and then recontructed knowledge as a commodity whose non-rival character required it to be publicly owned.[16] But there was a problem with equating public ownership with public benefit, for what if knowledge was not always beneficial? This ‘atomic-bomb’ question had a very odd answer – these were not public goods. They were, he argued, ‘public bads’.[17]

What exactly ‘public bad’ implies for the ownership of knowledge is not at all clear. Nor does the non-market argument hold up. Non-rival commodities – music downloads, for example – are commonly traded as privately owned goods. Who is to say that a public ‘good’ (or bad) could not be privately traded? The problem appears to be Marginson’s angle of analysis. Looking at education from the perspective of its economic good immobilises knowledge. That is, it means education and knowledge that, from other angles, may or may not be treated as commodities, must be. This position seems to result, eventually, in a significant anbivalence for Marginson. Whereas, in his 1990s writing, Marginson’s intention to critique commodified, privately traded knowledge is stated up front, in his post-2000 literature such an intention is no longer clear. In considering education as a global positional good and knowledge as a public commodity, in his recent work it becomes very difficult to tell whether Marginson is critiquing university entry into a global marketplace or providing instruction on how to do so to greater effect.[18]

Marginson’s assumption that knowledge must be a commodity of some sort leads him to attempt to assure, regardless of the marketised systems in place, that university knowledge remains publicly owned. I have instead taken the position that the ways of thinking about and treating knowledge are historically important. That treatment includes the process of commodifying knowledge, but also other treatments and claims. Rather than assigning to knowledge the category of ‘commodity’ before the thesis even begins, it is my intention to explore how, historically, it has been claimed, owned and sometimes commodified – and for what purpose.

[1] The Australian Comparative Education Society, founded in 1973, became the Australian and New Zealand Comparative and International Education Society in 1983. Australian and New Zealand Comparative and International Education Society, "The Australian and New Zealand Comparative and International Education Society Website," Murdoch University, (Retrieved 7 September 2011)
[2] Derek Bok, Universities in the Marketplace : The Commercialization of Higher Education (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2003). S Slaughter, and Leslie, L, Academic Capitalism: Politics, Policies and the Entrepreneurial University (Baltimore and London: The John Hopkins University Press, 1997). S Slaughter and G Rhoades, Academic Capitalism and the New Economy (Baltimore and London: The John Hopkins University Press, 2004). Marc Bousquet, "The Informatics of Higher Education," in The Politics of Information: The Electronic Mediation of Social Change, ed. Marc  Bousquet and Katherine Wills (Stanford, CA: Alt X Press, 2003). ———, How the University Works: Higher Education and the Low-Wage Nation (New York: New York University Press, 2008). Daniel S Greenberg, Science for Sale: The Perils, Rewards and Delusions of Campus Capitalism (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007). Stanley Aronowitz, The Knowledge Factory: Dismantling the Corporate University and Creating True Higher Learning (Boston: Beacon, 2000).
[3] Slaughter, Academic Capitalism: Politics, Policies and the Entrepreneurial University. pages
[4] Ibid. pages
[5] Slaughter and Rhoades, Academic Capitalism and the New Economy. pages
[6] Simon Marginson, "The New Higher Education Landscape: Public and Private Goods, in Global/National/Local Settings," in Prospects of Higher Education: Globalisation, Market Competition, Public Goods and the Future of the University, ed. Simon Marginson (Taipei: Sense Publishers, 2007). Michael Peters, Knowledge Economy, Development and the Future of Higher Education (Rotterdam: Sense Publishers, 2007). Mark Olssen and Michael A Peters, "Neoliberalism, Higher Education and the Knowledge Economy: From the Free Market to Knowledge Capitalism," Journal of Education Policy 20, no. 3 (2005).
[7] Leonard J Waks, "In the Shadow of the Ruins: Globalisation and the Rise of Corporate Universities," in Prospects of Higher Education: Globalisation, Market Competition, Public Goods and the Future of the University, ed. Simon Marginson (Taipei: Sense Publishers, 2007).
[8] Eric Gould, The University in a Corporate Culture (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2003). Greenberg, Science for Sale: The Perils, Rewards and Delusions of Campus Capitalism. Donoghue, The Last Professors: The Corporate University and the Fate of the Humanities. Slaughter and Rhoades, Academic Capitalism and the New Economy.
[9] Cris Shore and Susan Wright, "Coercive Accountability: The Rise of Audit Culture Om Higher Education," in Audit Cultures: Anthropological Studies in Accountability, Ethics and the Academy, ed. Marilyn Strathern (FIX REF: ?).
[10]Anthony Welch, Australian Education: Reform or Crisis? (Sydney: Allen & Unwin, 1996). ———, "Introduction. Challenge and Change: The Academic Profession in Uncertain Times," in The Professoriate: Profile of a Profession, ed. Anthony Welch (Dordrecht: Springer, 2005).; Kim McShane, "Technologies Transforming Academics: Academic Identity and Online Teaching" (PhD Thesis, University of Technology, Sydney, 2006). Michael Gallagher, "The Emergence of Entrepreneurial Public Universities in Australia. Paper Presented at the Imhe General Conference of the Oecd Paris, September 2000," ed. Training and Youth Affairs Department of Education (Canberra: Commonwealth of Australia, 2000).
[11] Simon Marginson and Mark Considine, The Enterprise University: Power, Governance and Reinvention in Australia (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000).
[12] Marginson, Education and Public Policy in Australia. Simon Marginson, Educating Australia: Government, Economy and Citizen since 1960 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997). ———, The Free Market: A Study of Hayek, Friedman and Buchanan and Their Effects on the Public Good (Sydney: Public Sector Research Centre, 1992). ———, Markets in Education (Sydney: Allen & Unwin, 1997).
[13] Marginson, Education and Public Policy in Australia., 131-134
[14] ———, "The New Higher Education Landscape: Public and Private Goods, in Global/National/Local Settings.", 43-48 Simon Marginson, "Global University Rankings," in Prospects of Higher Education: Globalisation, Market Competition, Public Goods and the Future of the University, ed. Simon Marginson (Taipei: Sense Publishers, 2007).
[15] Marginson, Education and Public Policy in Australia., 174
[16] Ibid., 172-179
[17] ———, "The New Higher Education Landscape: Public and Private Goods, in Global/National/Local Settings.", 37
[18] See Ibid.